He-said-he-said. Who are we to believe? Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and creationist leader Ken Ham have published reflections on their recent debate. Nye explains his triumph. Ham says, not so fast. To this reader, Ham seems to be on the defensive.
As ILYBYGTH readers recall, the debate itself occurred a couple of months ago. Bill Nye traveled to Ham’s Creation Museum to tackle the question, “Is creation a viable model of origins in the modern scientific era?” The debate rollicked over some familiar territory and included some surprises. Ham focused on his idiosyncratic definition of science, split into authentic “observational” science and illegitimate “historical” science. Nye piled on the traditional skeptical puzzlers: How could a tree be more than 6,000 years old on a young earth? Why are there no fossils out of order? How could an Ark survive?
In the pages of the Skeptical Inquirer, Nye recently offered his reflections on the debate. He explains his strategy to pile on example after example of young-earth-confounding science. He explains his decision to spend his first precious ninety seconds on a mild joke about bow ties. He profusely thanks his advisers, such as the experienced creation/evolution debaters at the National Center for Science Education. Nye’s tone is profoundly celebratory. In short, he explains how and why he triumphed.
Perhaps not surprising, Ken Ham took exception to Nye’s comments. Never one to back away from a challenge, Ham recently published a rejoinder to Nye’s memoir. To me, Ham’s article seems strangely defensive. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no follower of Mr. Ham. But I have defended him against vicious verbal assaults from skeptics. I have also taken The Science Guy to task for his woeful misunderstanding of the culture of creationism. But in this case, Ham’s only defense seems to be to niggle around the edges of Nye’s memories.
Ham objects, for example, to Nye’s memory of how the debate came about. The way Nye tells it, Ham persistently challenged Nye to a debate until Nye agreed. The way Ken Ham remembers it, however, the whole thing came about at the suggestion of an Associated Press reporter.
Ham also objected to Nye’s repeated suggestion that Ham has a “congregation,” and that all of these museums appeal to “Ham’s followers.” Such language, Ham protests, seems to be an effort to marginalize Ham’s Answers In Genesis ministry as a fringe cult. Fair enough. I would be surprised if Bill Nye knew much about the history of parachurch organizations in American (and Australian) evangelical Protestantism. For evangelical Protestants, there is often a clear distinction between church and broader organizations that also help the cause. Missionary groups, Bible leagues, youth organizations, and similar parachurch organizations are a familiar part of the evangelical experience. Nye really does seem to miss this distinction entirely. But does it matter? Does it really hurt Ham’s cause if outsiders think of his work as a “congregation” instead of a “ministry?” It seems the distinction only matters to members themselves.
Perhaps strangest of all, Ham claims to catch Nye in an embarrassing distortion of the truth. Nye insists that he had never been inside the Creation Museum before the debate. One time when he was in the area, Nye explained, he drove around the parking lot, but the museum itself was closed. Nye says he saw the “infamous” statue of a dinosaur with early humans outside the museum. But Ham seems to prove that Nye distorted this memory. Ham produces a photo that apparently shows Bill Nye outside the Creation Museum in 2011. Ham even notes a 2011 Facebook post that seems to confirm the date and duration (122 seconds!) of Nye’s visit. The museum, Ham claims, was indeed open at the time. Plus, there is no statue outside the museum that depicts humans cavorting with dinosaurs. How could Nye have seen a statue that doesn’t exist?
These sorts of nitpicks put Nye in an awkward position. Why would Nye embellish his memories of his 2011 visit to the Creation Museum’s parking lot?
In the end, though, they don’t seem to make a difference. Throughout this post-debate commentary, Ken Ham takes a decidedly defensive tone. He pokes holes in Nye’s memories, but he doesn’t really challenge Nye’s central conclusion that the debate was a triumph for mainstream science.